In Dialog With ‘Lifetime of Pi’ Actress Salma Qarnain

Few folks can name themselves a rocket scientist. Even fewer can say they’re a rocket scientist-turned-actress, producer, author and Broadway star. Salma Qarnain is a Pakistani Muslim girl who can declare the title. 

Salma Qarnain
Salma Qarnain on the “Lifetime of Pi” Broadway Debut | Picture Credit score: Rebecca J Michelson

Artistry runs by Qarnain’s veins. Her grandfather was a filmmaker in Bombay and Karachi, earlier than passing away at a younger age. Her mom carried out in performs all through faculty. Now Qarnain is utilizing artistry to construct empathy, taking part in characters that symbolize her household’s story and selling Black and Brown allyship by Black Man Filmsthe manufacturing firm she co-founded with Roderick Lawrence.

Qarnain grew up in Karachi, singing alongside to the Beatles and pretending to be Ringo Starr. When her household moved to the US, typical of South Asian immigrant parental affect, her curiosity in math and science and immense love for Star Wars led her to pursue aerospace engineering, therefore rocket science. Her mom’s passing compelled her to rethink her objectives and when she needed to attain them.

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At present, she describes her function for creating artwork in profound phrases.

I need folks to be equal. I need folks to grasp we’re very a lot all collectively a speck of mud in your entire universe, and that there are such a lot of extra issues we share than we don’t.

Beginning leisure work within the aftermath of 9/11 made it clear how she, a Pakistani Muslim girl, could be seen.

I bear in mind [at] that point… Associates of mine advised me, ‘Don’t let anyone know x, y, z about you, as a result of they might have a bias in opposition to you. One thing may occur.’

The start of her profession was outlined by how Western tradition perceived Muslims and South Asians. Her first leisure gig was as a casting assistant in Washington D.C. She observed if South Asians had been solid,

They had been going to be taking part in one thing stereotypical to what a South Asian particular person is considered… that might be the geeky, primarily male, math nerd, or a terrorist.

Whereas the place supplied a possibility to find out about what it took to grow to be an actress, Qarnain additionally leveraged her tasks to make a change —  if a task didn’t completely require a white actress, she would collect numerous resumes for the casting director, slowly attempting to shift the concept of what an individual of shade on tv needed to be. 

With folks of numerous experiences becoming a member of author’s rooms and a “pipeline of younger South Asian actors,” the trade has improved however isn’t near equitable. She sees “Lifetime of Pi” on Broadway and Black Man Movies as methods to fight that.

Broadway’s adaptation of Yann Martel’s 2001 novel brings a multigenerational South Asian solid to the stage and has Qarnain taking part in two roles — Pi’s (gender-swapped) biology trainer, an analytical, guiding mentor, and the Muslim cleric Pi research underneath. “Lifetime of Pi” is one in all Qarnain’s favourite novels for being a narrative about religion, storytelling and the facility of each to offer hope. She took a callback for the position through Zoom in an Applebee’s parking zone. 

I really feel very invested in each of those characters. Simply as a result of they’re absolute extensions of who I’m as an individual, and to have this be my Broadway debut — I couldn’t have requested for something higher.”

She received to play a Pakistani Muslim character as soon as earlier than within the off-Broadway play “Acquittal.” It was the primary time she might symbolize an genuine story. In “Life of Pi,” Qarnain helped workshop the scenes with the solid and playwright Lolita Chakrabarti to make them extra genuine. 

She completely took our options and feedback and reactions, for myself, from one other particular person in our solid – who’s additionally a Muslim – after which from castmates, [who are] Catholic and Hindu, to grasp what would work and what would folks reply to. That’s the place the reward was, that [Chakrabarti] was very receptive to what we needed to say.

Salma Qarnain
Salma Qarnain on the “Lifetime of Pi” Premiere | Picture Credit score: Rebecca J Michelson

Black Man Movies and her partnership with Roderick Lawrence run parallel to her theatrical journey. The pair fashioned the manufacturing firm in the course of the pandemic by a brief movie that Lawrence created to discover Black males’s psychological well being. As an enthusiastic fan of Lawrence’s work and having needed to start producing for movie and tv, Qarnain joined the venture instantly. The quick movie, “Silent Partner,” went to 21 movie festivals and gained Finest Quick at a number of. 

It was by no means achieved for accolades. It was achieved as a result of there was a function and message to the story round Black males’s psychological well being advised by the lens of micro-aggressions within the office.


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The second quick movie, “Speak Up, Brotha!” was launched in late March and will likely be performed at Oscar-qualifying movie festivals, this summer season. 

For Qarnain, Black Man Movies is a platform for change and Black and Brown allyship. 

I need folks to take a look at our movies and perceive the place they’re, who they’re on this movie; in “Silent Associate.” In the event that they’re complicit in propagating systemic racism, and, in that case, what are they gonna do about it? How can they begin? How can they discuss to their dad and mom? How can they, you realize, have interaction with different South Asians and put a cease to colorism and any racism that exists in opposition to the black neighborhood?

Telling tales that replicate the experiences of individuals of shade provides creatives the facility to construct techniques that may enhance folks’s lives.

There’s a racial hierarchy that exists and if we wish to break that, we’ve to be part of constructing all the things, not only for us, however for everyone who isn’t white.

She is assured that the tales she’s serving to carry to life will just do that and alter the world within the course of. From “Lifetime of Pi” to “Converse Up, Brotha!” the chances for encouraging justice and empathy are countless.

Featured Picture Courtesy of Bjoern Kommerell

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